Visiting the Philippines – 7 Cardinal Rules of Behavior For a Tourist

It can be quite confusing when visiting the Philippines to know exactly how to behave. On the “outside”, the Philippines appears to be on one of the most Westernized countries in Asia. English is prevalent everywhere you go, and most all signs are in English. Filipinos have taken to the Western culture voraciously, in dress, slang, fast-food, movies and music, and so forth.

Yet, underneath this veneer lies an Asian soul. Filipinos share many of the same values and attitudes with other Asians. If you fail to realize the false window of the English language, and think the Filipino will act, react and think like a Westerner, you will commit many social and personal relationship blunders that could have long lasting effect.

The Filipino culture emphasizes smooth interpersonal relationships. Harmony at all times is the goal, and loss of face must be avoided at all costs. Not standing out in the crowd, being accepted by the group, and getting along with everyone is treasured. An independent attitude gets you nowhere in the Philippines. There is nothing worse than to be loud and aggressive.

Pride is everything to a Filipino, no more so to the man than the woman. Self esteem and self image tend to be low, but pride is strong. Since self esteem tends to be low, to offend a Filipino’s sense of self or self respect is to invite conflict.

The author of this article has travelled to and lived in the Philippines on and off over the past 25 years and presently resides there on a semi-retirement basis. On this basis, I have identified below 7 Cardinal Rules of Behavior for a tourist:

1. Avoid the westerner’s tendency to speak bluntly.

2. Avoid confrontation. When provoked, “bite your tongue” and contain your anger. When in the Philippines, it is absolutely imperative to “keep your cool”.

3. Never cause a Filipino to lose face – be extremely sensitive.

4. Avoid prolonged eye contact – look briefly and then look away.

5. Avoid loud, boisterous and aggressive behavior. Filipinos are highly sensitive to criticism.

6. Don’t snap your finger to get someone’s attention.

7. Like in other Asian countries, never summon someone as it is done in western countries, with a palm upward motion. Rather, in the Philippines, one properly summons another by bending your hand, palm down, and at about chin height.

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